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2008 HSR&D National Meeting Abstract

National Meeting 2008

1010 — Psychiatric Distress in a Cohort of Deployed National Guard Soldiers

Erbes CR (Minneapolis VAMC), Polusny MA (Minneapolis VA Center for Chronic Disease Outcome Research (CCDOR)), Rath M (Minnesota National Guard), Courage C (Minnesota National Guard), Duffy C (University of Minnesota), Reddy M (University of Minnesota), Thuras P (Minneapolis VAMC)

The mental health status and needs of returning Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans is of crucial interest for VA providers, program developers, and national planners. A substantial portion of service members deployed to OIF are National Guard or Reserve component troops who have different family, work, and training backgrounds than Active Duty component personnel. The present study examines rates of self-reported PTSD and depression in a large cohort of National Guard soldiers who completed surveys during a combat deployment to Iraq.

Members of the National Guard 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division, Brigade Combat Team (1/34 BCT) participated in a survey during the last 2 months of their deployment to Iraq (April through May, 2007). Surveys were distributed by our in-theater military collaborators and shipped back to the United States for analysis to ensure soldier confidentiality. Surveys included demographic questions and questionnaires assessing PTSD (the PCL) and depression (the BDI-2).

Of the approximately 4,000 members of the 1/34 BCT deployed to Iraq, 2,697 completed surveys, yielding a response rate of 67%. Respondents were mostly enlisted personnel (90%), male (92%), and Caucasian (85%). Sample demographics closely match demographics of the BCT as a whole. Nine percent of soldiers screened positive for PTSD and 11% screened positive for moderate or severe depression using standard cut scores on the PCL and BDI-II. Depression and PTSD symptoms correlated positively (r = .73, p < .001), and half of those screening positive for depression also screened positive for PTSD.

The majority of National Guard troops in this sample do not report elevated rates of PTSD and depression even towards the end of a 22-month deployment (16 months in theater). However, a substantial minority do screen positive for potentially serious psychological distress, including depression and PTSD, and represent potential high-need and high-priority consumers of VA services.

This study highlights the need for VA to successfully target those returning soldiers most at risk for mental health impairments and to provide services quickly to minimize social and personal deterioration. Follow-up longitudinal studies are needed to evaluate the course of adjustment in this population and the effectiveness of VA outreach and care services.

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